Seaside, Japan. Photo courtesy of: © Maximilien Lebaudy
Japan’s initiative to raise the awareness of the risks posed by tsunamis will this weekend mark a milestone when World Tsunami Awareness Day makes its debut on 5 November – an occasion that goes beyond paying tribute to the victims of tsunamis.
Tsunamis are rare, but extremely deadly. Records show that, between 1996 and 2015, 250,900 people died in 21 countries affected by 30 tsunamis. The most devastating among them was the Indian Ocean Tsunami on 26 December 2004 in which more than 220,000 people perished, including 9,000 foreign tourists. Japan’s tsunami on 11 March 2011 left more than 18,000 dead or missing.
“Rather than selecting a memorial day or a tragic day, such as 11 March or 26 December, 5 November was selected as a ‘forward-looking’ day when many lives were saved due to proactive actions,” Yuki Matsuoka, Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Japan, told the UN News Centre.
There is a century and decades-long history to it. On 5 November in 1854, a massive tsunami triggered by a magnitude-8.4 earthquake struck the Kii Peninsula in Japan. It is recorded that many lives were saved in that event when Goryo Hamaguchi, a leader in a small village, set fire to piled sheaves of newly harvested rice in his own paddy, to evacuate and guide fellow villagers to high ground in the darkness.
In Japan, this story is known as “The Fire of Inamura (rice sheaves).”
Last December, the UN General Assembly designated 5 November as World Tsunami Awareness Day, with 142 countries co-sponsoring a resolution drafted by Japan, which worked with other disaster-prone countries as well as partners such as UNISDR.
“Tsunami, originally a Japanese word, is now commonly used in English. This represents the fact that the Japanese people have the long history of grappling with tsunami hazards,” Ms. Matsuoka said. “Japan built the people’s resilience not only by hard measures, but also by soft measures,” she added…